Ramen!!! Just saying the word makes me smile. It reminds me of sitting in a back-alley ramen house in Japan, slurping down delicious noodles in creamy, fatty broth. Even in the summer, I crave the comfort and satisfaction I get from a tonkotsu ramen bowl. To me, it’s like a great big hug. Luckily, in Hong Kong ramen bowls are readily available, but with so many competitors, it’s difficult to know which one to choose. I’ve tried my fair share and, in my opinion, the leader of the pack is definitely Butao Ramen

Butao Ramen is a Hakata-style ramen house which has four restaurants in Hong Kong with branches in Central, Causeway Bay, TST and Shatin. I have only been to the Central branch on Wellington Street. This location is easy to spot usually by the long queue of Ramen enthusiasts at lunchtime. Even in the rain, people line up for their tonkotsu fix at this Central restaurant. Just in case you get lucky and there is no queue, you can also distinguish Butao Ramen from the other kids on the block by the large paper illuminated lantern at the entrance and the sign in the picture above. If in doubt, peek your head inside and look for satisfied faces hovering over steaming bowls of happiness.

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For me, entering Butao Ramen is like stepping into Japan. The wooden, steam-filled interior and the noren flags hanging along the bar immediately transport me back. I instantly want to sit down with a Sapporo beer and take it all in.

Seating is available at the bar or around shared tables. I won’t lie, the restaurant is ‘cosy”. As I said, it’s a popular place; so, you will definitely be sharing a table or making a new friend at the bar. Just make sure you have room for your ramen bowl. Once it arrives, you probably won’t look up.

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The menu at Butao Ramen is simple. There are 4 types of ramen bowls which are available every day (unless they run out), along with a limited ramen choice. Placing your order is fun! Each person selects their dish: Butao ($85), Black King ($95), Red King ($95) or Green King ($95). Tonkotsu (pork soup stock) is the heavenly base for all of the ramens. Butao is a traditional, full-bodied Japanese Hakata-style ramen. The Black King adds exciting ingredients like black garlic and squid ink, making the entire dish jet-black. The Red King looks like it tastes, with spicy miso added for the fire lovers. Finally, the Green King brings an Italian twist with an infusion of olive oil and basil and a sprinkling of parmesan.

To order, you simply choose the type of ramen bowl you would like and customise it according to your tastes. You can tailor-make your ramen by choosing the items listed in the picture above (some at an additional cost). On this visit, we went for a Butao and a Red King – both with a bit of extra garlic and a lot of sizzle. Oh, and Sapporo beers, obviously.

The Butao : How gorgeous is this ramen bowl? Look at that luscious broth! I’m not sure I really need to write anything to convince you to try this; but, I’m going to anyways. First of all, Butao may be the basic choice on the menu; but, it’s taste is anything but boring. The velvety tonkotsu base is savoury and rich. It almost tastes… dare I say… buttery. The combination of this fabulous base with the tender pork, earthy mushrooms, zesty spice and fresh green onions is something else. And, don’t even talk to me about the ramen. If you’re a ramen gal like me, you won’t be disappointed. It’s just divine. You can even customise the texture and type of ramen on your menu card to make sure it’s just right. Even Goldilocks would be pleased! If you’ve never been to Butao Ramen, this is the dish that I would recommend. You’ll have plenty of time to try the rainbow of Kings on your second visit… or your tenth.

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Notes on the menu: (1) If you’re sensitive to spice, order lower on the spice scale. They will bring extra spicy sauce to your table if you want a bit more kick, (2) The tonkotsu broth is plenty rich with the normal level of infused oil, so maybe think twice before increasing their levels (3) I found the pork butt to be less fatty than the pork belly; but, both pork options were tasty (4) I haven’t tried the Green King or Black King. The new friends I made at our table all ordered the Black King, which the menu suggests has a stronger flavour. The Green King looks like a great choice for those who love fusion cuisine.

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Seating is available at the bar or around shared tables. I won’t lie, the restaurant is ‘cosy”. As I said, it’s a popular place; so, you will definitely be sharing a table or making a new friend at the bar. Just make sure you have room for your ramen bowl. Once it arrives, you probably won’t look up.

The Red King: Okay, don’t be afraid. Remember, this is with Level 6 spicy sauce added. I have to admit, when this came to the table… I was a bit intimidated. I can eat Sichuan with the best of them, but didn’t know that I was signing up for that level of tummy commitment on ramen night. However, my fears were quickly eliminated once I took my first bite. Yes, it’s hot. I mean, it’s the colour of a fire truck. However, the smooth tonkotsu base of this dish acts as sort of a buffer and mellows out the spicy miso taste. What’s left is a full-bodied, complex spice-lovers dream. It was easy to inhale this entire bowl without stopping to remember my initial hesitation. If you like a bit of fire in your belly like I do, you will love the Red King. I know I did. In fact, I think that I might challenge myself and up the spice level next time. Maybe…

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So, if you’ re looking for a great big Japanese hug-in-a-bowl, give Butao Ramen a try. Stick to the basics with the Butao Ramen or order the royal treatment with a Red, Green or Black King… you really can’t go wrong.

Butao Ramen’s Central branch is located at 69 Wellington Street and is open from 11:00am – 11:00pm, with last orders at 10:30pm. For information on Butao Ramen’s other locations, visit their website at: www.butaoramen.com

Brandie is an American living in Hong Kong with a British husband, a Chinese pug and a Parisian soul. She believes in making bold decisions and living a life full of happiness and laughter. A few years ago, she quit her job as an attorney to explore the world and she blogs about it here:

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